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The 16 different paths for a new Interstate 81

Ryan Delaney
WRVO News File Photo
Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse. (file photo)

A new Interstate 81 could rise 25 feet higher than it currently does, or be buried 81 feet below the ground's surface. Those are just two of the 16 options the state Department of Transportation has revealed to the public as an update to their lengthy process of choosing how to replace the current roadway.

There are two constants in the 16 options: The north-south I-81 will be properly connected with the east-west I-690 in all directions. And properties will have to be knocked down, though DOT provided few details about that.

The elevated 1.4 mile stretch of I-81 running through downtown Syracuse is aging and beginning to crumble. It's been given a 2017 deadline for the end of its useful lifespan.

Thursday's briefings were the public's first chance to see more details on four root possibilities for a new I-81: rebuild the elevated viaduct, build a depressed highway, tunnel it below the city, or build a street-level boulevard.

(The 16 variations also include "no build" and simply maintain the current roadway as a baseline control. And an "other" options.)

"There’s a number of factors that are considered," said DOT spokesman Beau Duffy. "First and foremost, do the alternatives meet the goals of the project? By reasonable and feasible, can the project be constructed in a reasonable amount of time and are they affordable?"

Even rebuilding the viaduct would require it to be wider to meet code, which would mean a larger footprint through the city. Variations include stacking the northbound and southbound lanes on top of each other.

Credit Zack Seward / WXXI

Most new options also include some current surface streets that cross I-81's path to be dead-ended.

DOT will display more thorough details on the options this summer at a more formal scoping meeting.

"All of the alternatives are still a work in progress," Duffy said.

Large crowds showed up the briefings, held at the Everson Museum.

"As far as any of the tunnels downtown, I think it would disrupt a lot of streets and a lot of sewer lines, so I’m not in favor of the tunnel or the depressed highway through the downtown area," said John Morrison, a retired resident of Syracuse.

Morrison said he likes the idea of building a five mile tunnel that would travel through the east side of Syracuse, but at an estimated price tag of $3.9 billion, "I don't think that one's going to make it," he said. 

As a resident of Marcellus, west of Syracuse, Janet Muir likes that the options will connect 690 East with 81 South, and vise versa.

"That has been a real problem for travel," she said.

Muir said she would have liked to see public transportation worked into some of the options. She took the bus to the public briefing.

(Read all of WRVO's coverage on the I-81 debate)

Duffy said late 2015 is the target date for a decision.

While DOT is taking public comments throughout the process, the final decision is DOT's and the Federal Highway Administration's.

Read DOT's project update on the 16 alternative:

The 16 Options for New I 81 in Syracuse.